August 30, 2016
A great overview on the reality of scientific work
The way scientific work and scientists are portrayed to the general public is grossly mistaken. This book provides the perspective of an insider who also cites many works written by others (as it is a good custom of scientific writing).
Science is not about the glory of discovery and the hoarding of knowledge even though these things matter to some degree. First and foremost it is a weird combination about great frustration and great joy that needs to be balanced. The joy comes from the freedom to play with and to investigate natural phenomena but the frustration comes from the many uncounted failed attempts to figure out why certain things are the way they are. Most scientists will probably never have a big discovery. The book gives advice on how to approach research to improve the conditions that may lead to meaningful discoveries. But in the end, there is always some luck involved.
The book also gives insight into some of the greatest scientific minds like Newton who - despite their exceptional academic achievements - still struggled with self-doubt. The book also emphasizes the importance of talking to fellow scientists about scientific matters but also about scientific practise and daily frustration. It is far too easy to be caught in one one's perspective.
It's a pity that I didn't read this book earlier. It would have given me a better perspective during my PhD. There is a lot of valuable advice in there.
The original book was first published in 1950 and revised in 1957. It does not take into account the influences of the digital world that has emerged since then. But dispite its age, it is still extremely relevant to today's scientists and will probably stay relevant for a long time, even if the artificial intelligence singularity should happen soon.